This question is a related to this question which has been closed.

I will explain the whole situation here again and the question is different:

I wrote to a prof. on December 15 in Germany whose specialization aligns with mine in Pure Math and he replied back:

Dear X,

thanks for your interest . We can in principle discuss the possibility of a PhD with me, but I should warn you that it's unlikely to work out in the end - first of all, most likely I won't accept any new PhD students for the next year.

If you nevertheless want me to consider accepting you, please send me your Master's thesis and ask at least one of your recommenders to directly email their recommendation letter to me.



I sent him my thesis and 2 LOR's and told him that I viewed 1 talk given by him and read 3 of his research papers to become more familiar with recent techniques he is using.

To which he replied:

Dear X,

thanks, I've received your recommendations. First, let me repeat what I wrote to you previously - I most likely don't want to accept any new PhD student this year, so if I don't accept you, it will probably be to a large extent for that reason.

However, we could talk over zoom sometimes to discuss things. I'm quite busy at the moment, so let's do it at the end of January - can you please email me around Jan 21 telling your time availibilty on Jan 24.



Question: The prof. might tell me some of his colleagues that I can write to. But I have already written to them (by going through his papers I came to know who he has collaborated with). I really want to work under his supervision and some other professors I wanted to work with will not take any new students this year. I wrote also to 3 professors in France and they haven't replied to me despite sending a remainder mail. How can I persuade (if that is the correct word to use here, English is not my native language) him to take me without being needy?

In his 2nd reply he told me that "However, we could talk over zoom sometimes to discuss things". What exactly can we discuss in that meeting? What should I do to make the most of that meeting?

I can talk about the other place I wrote to / applied to , my master's thesis, my knowledge in the particular branch I want to work in and also other branches or the topics I am studying now.

I think it is very kind of him to give me a chance. He could have simply said no. But he is interested in giving time from his busy schedule.

  • 2
    My impression is that this professor has other things going on in their life that make them uncertain about committing to a new student. I would not overthink this - just meet with them and see what emerges. It is unlikely to be in your interests to 'convince' them if they are not comfortable they have the capacity to supervise you.
    – avid
    Jan 20, 2022 at 20:11

1 Answer 1


By my reading, this statement (and the repeated rephrased versions of the same thing):

I most likely don't want to accept any new PhD student this year, so if I don't accept you, it will probably be to a large extent for that reason.

is meant to make it absolutely clear to you that this professor is not accepting new students this year, that the reason for not accepting new students is not related to the quality of your application in any way, and therefore that there is no way you can persuade or convince or coerce or bribe them to take you.

I know they do not say this explicitly; they use words like "unlikely" and "possibility" and "probably". However, I believe they are using indirect language in an attempt to be gentle; this is common in many cultures, even cultures that overall have a mostly direct communication style. It is hard to say "no"! It can feel mean to tell someone else you can't help them, even if the thing that would actually be most useful to them would be to make it clear they need to look somewhere else. I think this person is doing the best they can to tell you this without crossing into saying "no, absolutely not".

Given that prior information, I think it would be very rude to attempt to persuade them. An overly strong attempt may make them very, very uncomfortable and want to never hear from you again: you'll be forcing them to say more firmly "no" when they've been trying to communicate "no" to you without having to actually say it.

To get the most out of this meeting, I'd recommend focusing on what other ways they can help you: there may be other people they know working in the field (that may not be one of the authors you've identified already) who are looking for students. It's also okay to simply ask them for their help and advice: they're experienced and they've been a prospective student before. It's fine to say exactly what you've written here: that you've been in contact with other professors as well and unfortunately none of them seem to be taking new students and you're not sure what to do next.

As for what to talk about, you should talk about your shared interest in mathematics! There is a very very small group of people interested in any narrow topic within pure math or any other specific field of research. If you tried to speak to every single person you ran into on the street in a big city for a whole year, you'd be unlikely to encounter a single one that's specifically interested in that area of research. I don't think there's much point in trying to brag or show off your knowledge or potential, just talk about what interests you or what you find fascinating, what you don't know yet that you want to know, etc.

You can conclude with a request that they contact you if anything changes about their plan to not take on students; that's a request that they can easily and graciously say "yes" to, and they'll be happy to reach out if it does happen, even though you should plan for that message to never come. This is your best chance, even if it's most definitely an unlikely one.

  • 3
    Good answer and good advice, but two comments: (a) while it may be true for the professor, Germany as a whole is not a gentle culture. I remember high school students receiving an "F+F" because one F wouldn't have done the effort justice, and the worst effort in a biology exam being read by the teacher to the class for general amusement; (b) I think the professor is at capacity (either financially or by what he thinks he can supervise), but if the applicant ends up having 4 Math Olympics gold medals, or such, he might try to make it work. Jan 20, 2022 at 20:27
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    @gnometorule Yes, I'm aware of the reputation of German culture to be direct, which is why I mentioned that this aversion to saying "no" is not limited to cultures that are overall more indirect. I disagree that there is any chance this professor plans to "make it work" if they are sufficiently convinced; I think they've shown clearly that their reasons are not related to the applicant. We don't know those reasons: they may have too many students, they may plan to retire or take a long sabbatical, they may have cancer or other serious illness in themselves or family. It doesn't matter why.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 20, 2022 at 20:31
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    @BryanKrause I completely agree with your answer, although I would add that a possible outcome of the meeting could be that they offer to take them on as a PhD student in the next year.
    – Sursula
    Jan 21, 2022 at 4:27
  • @Sursula Can you please tell why exactly you think so?
    – user135061
    Jan 21, 2022 at 7:02
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    @YannicMuller If there was indeed a 0% chance they take you as a student, they would tell you that. The fact that they are offering to meet means there could be some change in their circumstances, but it's unlikely and they want to meet anyway. Jan 21, 2022 at 19:05

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